Consider specific circumstances when weighing whether to pay for before- or after-work time — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Consider specific circumstances when weighing whether to pay for before- or after-work time

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These days, class-action claims for unpaid work time are becoming common—and can get very expensive.

That’s one reason to make absolutely sure you properly pay employees for the work they do. On the other hand, times are tough and you don’t want to pay employees for time spent on activities for which they shouldn’t be compensated.

To sort through these issues, take a careful look at your hourly employees’ workdays—when they start and when they’re done for the day.

Recent case:
Mike Rutti worked as a technician for Lojack, installing car alarm systems. He sued his employer on behalf of himself and other technicians, claiming the company hadn’t paid him for all the time he expended on behalf of Lojack during his workday.

Rutti was required to use a company vehicle to travel to each customer’s location to install the alarms. Lojack paid its technicians from the time they arrived at their first assignment and until they left the last assignment to head home. Lojack did not pay for the time they spent commuting from home to the first assignment or back home after the last assignment because it believed this was normal commuting time.

But Rutti claimed that before heading out of the house in the morning, he had to retrieve his assignments for the day and decide on the best route. At the end of the day, he had to plug a device into a modem supplied by the company and transmit information on each of the day’s jobs to the company’s computers. He testified that this took five to 15 minutes, and that Lojack required him to check an hour later to make sure the transmission got through and resend it if it didn’t. Rutti said that happened frequently.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said his commute time was not compensable even though he was required to use a company car. And checking his assignments wasn’t compensable because it took only a few minutes.

On the other hand, the court ordered a trial on the work Rutti and the others allegedly performed after they got home. It reasoned that the tasks were essential to the company and took up at least an hour per week. (Rutti, et al., v. Lojack, No. 07-56599, 9th Cir., 2009)

Final note:
As you can see from this case, deciding whether to compensate employees for tasks performed before or after the official workday depends on the specific circumstances. That’s why it’s important to understand exactly what employees do before and after work.

You can save your company lots of hassle by designing systems that allow the workday to completely end before employees head home. For example, in this case, better computer equipment might have allowed employees to send their information from the company vehicle before heading home.

Anytime you require hourly employees to access computer systems from home, you run the risk of a wage-and-hour lawsuit.

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